The Three Cabritos, written by Eric A. Kimmel and illustrated by Stephen Gilpin, is a southwestern retelling of the Three Billy Goats Gruff story. I have a fondness for the story, because my much younger brother had a stuffed "Billy Guff" that he hung onto for years and years. In this case, three cabritos (young goats) decide to take their instruments across the Rio Grande into Mexico, to attend a fiesta. Their mother is concerned that the Chupacabra (goat-sucker) that lives under the bridge will attack them. But they dismiss her worries in cavalier fashion, and head out. Crossing the bridge one at a time, they each encounter the Chupacabra. However, they triumph over the monster, and have their fun.
It's a funny thing with these sorts of folk stories. If you actually look at the story in critical fashion, you often find that the plot doesn't hold up. In this case, the younger brothers each fob off the Chupacabra by suggesting that he wait for the bigger and tastier treat of an older brother. Then the oldest brother triumphs by saying "I forget to tell you. I have a magic accordion. When I play it, everyone has to keep dancing until I stop."
I must admit, I felt kind of cheated by the ending. I was already sort of miffed that the younger brothers were weasels and put the risk onto the oldest brother (though I know that's how the story works - the goats succeed by taking advantage of the monster's greed). But then the oldest brother suddenly has magic that we didn't know about? I wanted them to succeed by their cleverness. If the oldest brother had fobbed things off onto a non-existent fourth brother, thus tricking the Chupacabra, I would have been delighted. But for him to just suddenly have a magical accordion? It didn't work for me.
In the original tale (depending on which version you read) the third and largest brother defeats the monster via brute strength. Which is consistent with the story (The monster wants to wait for a bigger meal, but lo and behold, the bigger meal is strong enough to beat the monster, and he loses out. Stupid monster, paying for his greed!). But for the third brother to win via magic in this version seemed inconsistent. If he knew he had the magic accordion, why not just go first, and take the monster out, and not put the younger brothers at risk at all?
OK, sorry. I'm done quibbling. Clearly I'm not the right person to be reading re-told folk tales. The truth is that I'm happy to see this title, and that's why I've chosen to write about it. I think that there's a shortage of picture books that appeal to southwestern and Spanish-speaking readers, and that The Three Cabritos are a welcome addition. There's a handy glossary and pronunciation guide for the Spanish terms at the end of the book, and it's nice to see this folk tale transferred to a different culture. I also liked the the three brothers. They joyfully play their musical instruments, and spend their free time together. And they are brave in the face of adversity. The oldest brother is my favorite.
I also think that the illustrations in this book (drawn in #2 pencil, and then colored with Photoshop) are delightful. The Chupacabra is this enormous blue creature, with huge eyes and tiny legs. And it loves to dance! I want one (you know, about 8 inches high, not a life-size one). It's adorable. In general, the illustrations have an old-time, cartoonish sort of feel, one that works well with the southwestern theme. I half expected Wile E. Coyote to appear behind a cactus.
The Three Cabritos is a fun read, and I think that early elementary school kids will like it. Adult fans of re-told folk tales are bound to enjoy it, too. As for me, I love the very last page of the story best, but you'll have to read it to see for yourself.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.